Does vitamin D benefit men more than women in MS?

A recent study exploring the impact of vitamin D supplementation on a rat model of progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) found there may be disease-related sex differences gained from the vitamin. While supplementation was associated with less severe disease in both male and female rats, the male rodents experienced more benefits than the females.

The study was titled “Sex Differences under Vitamin D Supplementation in an Animal Model of Progressive Multiple Sclerosis,” and was published in the journal Nutrients.

Researchers found that male rats demonstrated higher overall benefit from vitamin D supplementation, possibly due to their nerve cells being more susceptible to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, which occurs when the body’s antioxidant defences fail to counteract the production of harmful free radicals, is known to contribute to disease progression in MS. Vitamin D can help counteract this.

Although the study provides valuable insights, further research is needed to determine if these findings extend to humans with MS. Understanding how vitamin D supplementation may influence the course of the disease in both genders could inform more tailored treatment approaches for MS patients.

The research team from Austria conducted the study using a rat model of progressive MS, administering regular food with or without vitamin D supplementation to both male and female rats starting when they were three weeks old. By monitoring symptoms and disease features, they observed differences between the sexes.

Female rats exhibited better total antioxidant capacity and showed greater preservation of the myelin sheath, a protective layer damaged in MS, as well as fewer activated microglia, immune cells implicated in the inflammatory attacks characteristic of the disease. Although nerve cell death occurred more frequently in female rats, disease progression was slower in this group.

Interestingly, vitamin D supplementation improved many of these markers in both male and female rats. However, male rats experienced a more pronounced reduction in markers of oxidative stress with vitamin D use. Additionally, vitamin D supplementation led to a significant decrease in blood levels of neurofilament light chain, a marker of nerve cell damage, specifically in male rats.

Overall, while both male and female rats benefited from vitamin D supplementation, the study highlights the potential for differential responses between the sexes, emphasising the importance of further investigation in clinical trials to elucidate these mechanisms in MS patients.